There are several reasons why being a console gamer in China is a pain-in-the-ass hobby but for me, this month has been particularly brutal. You see, I wanted to branch out. Silly me; I should have known that my presence in China would make that much harder than it ought to be.
The next generation…of waiting
Several weeks ago a colleague and I decided we would order two shiny new PS4s. After much discussion, we agreed that buying the consoles together would mean lower shipping costs and would keep one of us from camping in the other’s apartment. We decided importing would be the better option as it would be cheaper than the gray market and we would still be able to take advantage of the warranties should the something bad happen. So together we ventured onto amazon.com, paid extra for delivery and began our vigil.
All was fine, consoles dispatched, transit was speedy, everything was going well. Then enter Chinese Customs. The consoles are currently being held in Xiamen customs due to the lack of a CC form (China compulsory form). This is a form which no one has heard or has the slightest idea how to obtain. Customs agents have been nothing but hostile and the shipping company’s response can be best described as a verbal shrug. This is even more frustrating when many of my other console gaming comrades have already received their consoles hassle-free! It would appear geography has something to do with it as everyone else I know, Chinese and non-Chinese alike, had their consoles shipped through Shanghai.
I’m starting to think that my PS4 is not coming and will almost certainly be returned to America. The only real question is who will pay for it: us, the shipping company, or customs?
You can’t buy that here
This week I started writing for Games in Asia, so I decided that I would treat myself. I decided to get myself a 3DS (sorry PS Vita) and so off to Xiamen I went. For those of you who don’t know, Xiamen is a bustling hub of modern commerce. So you can imagine my surprise when every electronics store said the same thing: 3 days wait for an American 3DS.
Now I don’t know about you guys but I was not gifted with patience and those three days ticked by slowly. It didn’t help that I ordered on the weekend and got it on Monday, meaning my weekend of new games was cancelled! So I finally got my 3DS, it worked, and I was happy. I set of home to go on a mad purchasing spree; my plan was to pick up Zelda, Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem. Over $100 of games!
But Nintendo wouldn’t let me buy anything. You see, my 3DS is American but I’m Scottish, and so is my credit card. Nintendo’s crazy region-locking policy extends so far that they make it impossible to use credit cards from outside the specified gaming region, so because I don’t have a ZIP code it is impossible for me to add funds to my 3DS.
Seriously Nintendo, I want to give you my money. Please take it.
Lessons to be Learnt
So just to clarify: I am currently the proud owner of PS4 console probably being used as China’s most expensive footstool in Xiamen’s customs office and a 3DS/paperweight sitting next to me now. This is a problem. Companies, shipping and gaming companies alike are shooting themselves in the collective foot by not making life easier for people like me. The shipping company I can (begrudgingly) forgive, China can be a cruel mistress and her bureaucracy makes the DMV look convenient and friendly. But for Nintendo, there is no excuse.
Earlier this year Nintendo wrote this letter to Stanford McCoy (best name ever) a “U.S trade Representative for Intellectual and Property Innovation.” This letter names China as one of the great havens of piracy and details the myriad ways in which piracy is accomplished here. Well Nintendo, if you want to cut down piracy in China, how about you make it possible to legally buy your games here?
Currently, if you want to buy games legally in China your options are severely limited so most people opt for import, usually from Hong Kong. However, this is expensive and your games can be subject to extra taxes, refused delivery due to content issues (discussed here), or even just disappear without a trace.
And here’s the kicker: had I accepted the cracked consoles offered to me by local Chinese shops, I could be playing the games I want to. However, because I did the “right” thing and bought legit copies of the consoles, I am stuck in eStore limbo trying to get friends and colleagues from around the globe to put money on my eStore account. If you really want people to buy your games you need to entice them with convenience and then build loyalty over time. You can’t treat an entire market as an afterthought and then bitch about it when they treat your profits the same way.